The San Francisco 49ers entered the 2017 offseason with a sizable tight end depth chart. The primary trio included Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek, and Blake Bell. It was a group that has some upside, but has a lot of questions about just how much upside is there.
The 49ers signed Logan Paulsen in free agency, and then during the draft, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan admitted they have attempted to trade Vance McDonald over the past couple months. They followed that up by drafting George Kittle in the fifth round of the NFL draft, and then signing Cole Hikutini as an undrafted free agent.
The 49ers could very well make some significant changes at tight end, and Kittle could lead the way. He’s a solid blocker who could end up in a Joker role that moves him all around the field. It is not surprising then that NFL.com included him on their list of late round draft picks who could exceed expectations this year. They talked about D.J. Jones as well, which we discussed here.
Here’s what they had to say about Kittle.
Kittle shares some similar traits with Owen Daniels when he was coming out of Wisconsin in 2006 and I doubt that is lost upon new head coach Kyle Shanahan, who was on the Texans' staff when Daniels was thriving. In fact, with Shanahan as a play-caller in 2009, Daniels was on pace for a 1,000-yard, 10-TD season before tearing his ACL after eight games. Kittle is a quality zone-scheme, in-line blocker with the athleticism to race off the line and uncover as a pass-receiving threat. Kittle could be an early contributor and should become a quality starter in Kyle Shanahan's offense.
The 49ers are re-making their offense under Kyle Shanahan, and the tight end position could see plenty of changes. A year ago, Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek, and Blake Bell were the primary rotation at tight end. This year, the 49ers added Logan Paulsen, George Kittle, and Cole Hikutini. However, we can’t forget Kyle Juszczyk. He is listed as a fullback, but John Lynch’s description of him as an “offensive weapon” suggests we will see him all over the field. I would not be surprised at all if he took some snaps as a tight end, to go along with fullback, running back, and maybe even wide receiver.
The question then is how much of that McDonald, Celek, Bell trio remain next season. I could see the 49ers doing a trade involving McDonald that is similar to their move for Jeremy Zuttah. The Ravens were planning on cutting Zuttah, but the 49ers swooped in and worked out a deal that involved swapping sixth round picks. I’m sure some think the 49ers can get more than a throwaway pick for McDonald, but if the 49ers do a deal, I’d be surprised if it was anything more than a sixth or seventh round pick.